Have you ever spent two weeks in a place and thought ‘Hmm, I could easily spend two years here’? Well Jerez is that kind of city.
I was on a six-week jaunt through Spain, exploring the Andalusia region, and after a 10-day stay in Seville, I headed the hour south to Jerez. And I was far from the only one. Tourists, expats and locals alike have been experiencing the beauty of Jerez for decades, enjoying a high quality of life at some of the cheapest prices in Europe.
Jerez’s population of just over 200,000 swells in the warmer months, when visitors flock in to sample its traditional charms: locally-made sherry, dancing horses, delectable tapas and some magnificent architecture, including the iconic Cathedral, the Church of San Miguel and the Alcazar de Jerez. It didn’t take long for me to fall under Jerez’s spell and it quickly became my favourite place in Spain.
I booked a spacious, rather luxurious, AirBnB apartment in the heart of the old town for my two-week stay, which cost me around $100 a night. It came with high ceilings, great Wi-Fi, a modern kitchen and a beautiful, private rooftop terrace. There is certainly cheaper accommodation available, though, and if you stick around town longer, I’d recommend grabbing a one-bedroom unit—which can be had for as little as $500 a month.
If you live like a local here, you’ll keep your costs low. The secret is to stay away from the too-touristy restaurants and attractions. I saved loads of money by buying fresh food from the local butchers, fruit shops and bakeries and savouring them from the comfort of my sun-soaked, rooftop terrace.
At the centrally located Mercado de Abastos (Jerez Food Market) on Dona Blanca Street, you can find everything from fresh asparagus and Iberian pork fillet to oysters…prawns…even sea urchins from the nearby Costa de la Luz. I bought a kilo of bananas for $1.75, a dozen eggs for $2 and a kilo of chicken breast for less than $8. A quality bottle of wine will set you back about $6.
You can eat like a king here but you won’t need to worry about your waistline, gym prices are super-cheap here too. I popped down to the local gym and explained I was only in town for a fortnight, they set me up with unlimited access for my entire stay for just $21.
When it comes to savouring Jerez’s historical attractions, the Arenal Plaza is the perfect place to start your explorations. Jerez is chock-full of unique buildings (I highly recommend a tour of the Viceroy Laserna Palace), monuments, churches and museums (the Archaeological Museum is superb).
Whatever you do, don’t miss the world-class Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, where the horse shows rival anything you’ll see in Vienna. The skill, precision and choreography on display is truly a grand spectacle…like ballet for horses! But if dancing horses aren’t quite your speed then you could always make your way to Circuito de Jerez, the home of Grand Prix motorcycle racing.
During the day, the entertainment districts can be fairly quiet—but that all changes when the sun goes down. Fortified by a siesta, locals pour onto the cobblestone streets to sample the buzzing nightlife. On a Sunday night, head to a tabanco (traditional bar) for a free Flamenco show. My favourite was Tabanco San Pablo, you’ll find it down a little side street off the Plaza Arenal (try the roast pork rolls and Tio Pepe sherry).
For tapas bars and old-school sherry-sampling spots, you can’t go too wrong by meandering between Yerba, Asuncion and Plateros plazas and along Consistorio Street (just a few blocks northeast of the Cathedral), where the action doesn’t even start to slow down until well after midnight.
Jerez is also the perfect spot to base yourself for exploring further afield in Andalusia. The ancient port city of Cadiz is only half an hour away by train and well worth a look. It was hot and sunny when I visited—temperatures in the region average in the high-20s C during the European summer months—a perfect day to stroll along the esplanade, visit the ruins of old forts and sample local seafood at one of the many beachfront cafes fronting the blue Atlantic.
If you prefer more off-the-beaten-track adventures, hire a car for around $40 a day and drive east to the beautiful 30-metre dunes and Roman ruins of Bolonia, explore the sweeping, sandy expanse of the coastal town of El Palmar or check out the chilled-out surf spot Tarifa at Spain’s southernmost point.
Another must-see is the white village of Arcos de la Frontera, 30 kilometres east of Jerez. You can get here by local bus for about $4.50. Wander the labyrinth of picturesque, narrow streets—they all seem to lead to stunning views of the valley below. You’ll be mesmerised: Arco’s reputation as ‘the most beautiful town in Andalusia’ isn’t just hype, it’s richly deserved.
If you want to live like a local in ‘the real Spain’, savour the rich history and culture and do it all in a great climate then Jerez ticks all the boxes—and, as an added bonus, you’ll likely spend less here than just about anywhere else on the continent!
Image: ©iStock.com/Cezary Wojtkowski
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